The Spiders: The Golden Sea (1919) & The Diamond Ship (1920)


  • directed by Fritz Lang
  • starring Carl de Vogt, Ressel Orla, Georg John, Lil Dagover
  • Part I: Adventurer Kay Hoog races a secret organization, The Spiders, to the Incan ruins after finding a message detailing a surviving population and hidden treasure. Part II: Kay Hoog tries to stop The Spiders from acquiring a Buddha-head diamond that grants its owner the crown of Asia. 

Instead of directing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1920 as he was lined up to do, Fritz Lang put his time into developing a four-part adventure series that saw Kay Hoog in an ongoing battle of wits and strength with the shady Spiders organization. Not much is ever known about the nature of the Spiders; Lang gives no origin story, nor does he reveal much depth or motive in the group’s ruthless cross-continental pursuit of sacred treasures.

Part I of the series, The Golden Sea, plays like a silent version of Indiana Jones. It’s extremely fast-paced, thrilling at times, and very much of the action set piece leading directly into action set piece etc. etc. structure of story. Lang films gunfights on land and chases by air and sea and provides enough kinetic action to overcome plot holes and the thinnest of stories. It was a more traditional film than I expected to get from a Fritz Lang film circa the start of the German Expressionist movement, but at least The Golden Sea cleared the bar of making sense going from point A to point B. It was fun, simple, and quick enough to end before my frustrations with the plot boiled over.

In the second part, The Diamond Ship, Fritz Lang brings the action to a subterranean section of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Most of the film takes place indoors and it plays more like a procedural crime story than its landscape-driven and adventure-heavy predecessor. It had a much quieter tone, unfortunately meaning that the scattered-almost-to-the-point-of-hilarious plot was now in the forefront, making for a very challenging watch. Silent films are not always a picnic for me to get through and by no means did The Diamond Ship demand my attention or hold my hand in comprehending its senseless story.

I anticipated more stylish sets and visuals as a result of a lot more interior filming, something very much absent from the conservative-looking first part. This same year, the vision of Robert Wiene and his production designers was utterly exploding on screen in Caligari, and while Lang did achieve some great shots in the caves towards the end, overall he was still very restrained in the artistic design of his film. If anything he had a way of shooting the interiors that felt very claustrophobic, with the feeling of getting closer and tighter as it went on. I’d love to know if that sense of pressure complemented the story at all, I don’t think it did, but after a certain point midway through The Diamond Ship, I had completely given up on Kay Hoog and all the other minor characters introduced in favor of solely following Lang’s technique.

Part three and the concluding fourth part never materialized and I wouldn’t be surprised if the convoluted mess of a story was the culprit in eliminating all momentum and enthusiasm for the series. It had its high points and showed traces of Lang’s potential, specifically the breakneck pace and skilled editing of The Golden Sea, but in the end it was no huge tragedy that he never got to tie a neat bow on the story of Kay Hoog and the mysterious Spiders. As we all know, very soon after these early Lang films, the director’s vision and talent got much bigger and better.


About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

One Response to The Spiders: The Golden Sea (1919) & The Diamond Ship (1920)

  1. Pingback: Destiny (1921) | classixquest

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